University Theatre continues to set the stage for ‘Rent’

Katie Pryor
Arts & Culture Editor

With music, choreography, characters and story, many components go into producing, staging and directing a stage musical. For rock musicals like “Rent,” these components are even more crucial in order to fully entertain and move an audience. They require boisterous, almost angry energy, dynamic settings, choreography and performance, and songs that can pump an audience up while also appealing to fans of more traditional musicals.

The cast and ensemble of University Theatre’s fall 2014 musical, “Rent,” perform “La Vie Boheme,” the closing number to the first act of the musical.
The cast and ensemble of University Theatre’s fall 2014 musical, “Rent,” perform “La Vie Boheme,” the closing number to the first act of the musical.

For University Theatre’s rehearsal of “Rent” Sunday, Oct. 19, director and theatre professor Dr. Tony Elliot had one important note for his cast: “Tell a story. Start making connections with each other and with each part of this show.”

Based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” and winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, John Larson’s “Rent” follows a group of impoverished young bohemian artists and musicians struggling to survive and make a living. Much like “La Boheme,” several of these artists have been infected with a deadly illness, though unlike “La Boheme,” these characters are infected with HIV/AIDS instead of tuberculosis, and New York’s Lower East Side replaces Paris.

Among this group is Mimi Marquez, an exotic dancer with HIV; Roger Davis, Mimi’s boyfriend and an HIV-positive singer-songwriter; Mark Cohen, an independent filmmaker and Roger’s roommate; Maureen Johnson, a lesbian performer; Angel Dumott Schunard, a cross-dressing percussionist with AIDS; Tom Collins, a gay philosophy professor with AIDS and Angel’s boyfriend; Joanne Jefferson, a lesbian lawyer and Benjamin ‘Benny’ Coffin III, the local landlord and a former roommate of Roger, Mark, Collins and Maureen. Following a year in the life of this group, “Rent” is a high-energy yet touching rock musical about love, loss and living for the day.

Roger (Colin DiLucido) and Mimi (Shayana Murray) share an intimate moment during “Light My Candle.”
Roger (Colin DiLucido) and Mimi (Shayana Murray) share an intimate moment during “Light My Candle.”

With opening night a few weeks away, the cast and crew of University Theatre’s production of “Rent” were hard at work running the first act. It opens on Christmas Eve in the 1990s, and while people across the United States may be visiting families, the residents of the East Village are struggling to stay warm and pay rent.

“Production has been going very well,” ensured Dr. Elliot. “We still have a month to go, but I am very excited about the process we have made. We had our first rough run through of the whole show on Tuesday once everyone was back from break, and we are now working on touch ups and blocking.”

Dr. Elliot’s notes to his cast seemed to resonate throughout rehearsal. Along with running the act, which includes songs such as “Rent,” “Today 4 U,” “I’ll Cover You,” “Over the Moon” and “La Vie Boheme,” the cast and crew also worked on transitions and set up between each scenes as well as interacting with each other during musical numbers.

Sarah Ward as Maureen brings down the house during “Over the Moon.”
Sarah Ward as Maureen brings down the house during “Over the Moon.”

“Musicals are challenges, period,” said Dr. Elliot. “There are always so many levels involved between the cast and crew, the musical numbers, blocking and choreography. Our ultimate goals are to make sure everything is unified and to help the actors find their characters.”

Overall, Dr. Elliot is looking forward to the curtains rising on opening night of “Rent.” “This is going to have a loose, aggressive rock feel,” he said. “I really hope people see a cast that’s having a great time and see actors relating to each other.”

“Rent” will be performed in Clair Performance Hall in the Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center. Performances on Nov. 13-15 will be at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 16.

This event is open to the public. Tickets cost 10 dollars for general admission, 7 dollars for students with ID and seniors, 5 dollars when purchased in advance at the Student Memorial Center. Tickets may be purchased online at MUTicketsOnline.com, at the Student Memorial Center Ticket Office (Room 103, 21 S. George St., Millersville), by calling the Ticket Office at 717-871-7600 or at the Ware Center Box Office (42 N. Prince St., Lancaster). Ticket offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The Winter Center Box Office will be opening one hour prior to showtime.